If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally, there is an intense delight in abandoning faulty states of mind and in cultivating helpful ones in meditation.
~ Dalai Lama
Have you ever felt that the weight of the world is bearing down on your shoulders? Are your days filled with too many things to do? And most importantly, why does it feel like your life has been taken hostage by all these conditions and attachments? You are not alone, and there is a way to reclaim your life.
The Mandala That is Your Life
I like to refer to the lives we created as ‘mandalas‘, which in Tibetan Buddhism are detailed, beautiful, and elaborate art pieces made of colored sand or ground stone.
Sand mandalas can take days or weeks to make depending on the complexity and detail, and often involve others. But, alas, at the end the mandala is destroyed and sent into flowing waters which symbolizes the impermanence of life, and the world.
We can apply this same concept to our lives. We build our own mandala over many years and decades, and it becomes intricate and complex. This complexity is often thought to ‘define’ us, but it can actually hold us back us from growing and exploring. In Buddhism, we know that nothing is permanent and that includes ourselves. By embracing this constant change, we can also feel at ease about ‘refreshing’ our own mandala.
Sometimes You Have to Destroy the Mandala You Created
Just like the beautiful sand mandalas that Tibetan Buddhist monks make for days, then destroy, you should also do the same with complexity in your life. Having simplicity become a way of life is important in Buddhism as it allows you to embrace the teachings, to include the middle way.
Preventing us from doing this is our perceptions and ego. We are very proud of the mandalas we create: it has many intricate details, can look beautiful, has many things, but it’s all transitory. Any wind (such as the “eight winds“) can change the mandala you so carefully created. Why allow the winds to change and control your life? Destroy your mandala now by embracing simplicity so that the winds cannot change you.
Sweeping It Away
Thankfully embracing simplicity in our modern world doesn’t have to translate to “suffering” or living the life of a monastic. Here are a few ways you can make the transition:
- Stuff: Take an honest evaluation of what you “own”, and consider does it “own” you? It doesn’t matter if you would be on the next TV episode of “Hoarders” or not, we all cling to things. Why do you have these things? Are they to impress others such as friends and family? Look through what you own and see if you really need it, and if keeping it puts just one more thing on your plate. Take this stuff, and consider donating it. What better way to take something you don’t really need and give it to someone who does.
- Technology: Every year technology brings us what seems like more simplicity by reducing bookshelves with an e-reader, big computers with tablets, and more time with gadgets. But does it? Instead of being “in the moment” with others, we see many face down into their smartphones. Instead of a thoughtful letter or discussion, we send short meaningless emails. While it is still ok to have a smartphone, for example, it’s what you do with it that’s important. Look at all the ‘apps’ you have and consider if they are really important. More than likely, you only need just a few to do the things that are necessary. Restrain from just downloading a new app and being trapped in yet another thing you must ‘do’ (such as a photo sharing app, a to-do list, a social network, etc.). While these are easy to download, you get caught in yet one more thing that is unnecessary in your life.
- Online: While the world of the internet seems simple, consider what you do online. You more than likely have many profiles, including on different social networks like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Is that too many places for you to have a presence? Even if you are on ‘one’ social network, what do you really get out of it? For example, if you are just on Facebook and it becomes not only an attachment, but does it become a ball and chain because you ‘must’ be there because friends and family are? Online life is not real life, and there should be no need to stay (or do things) where you are not happy and where it makes your life complex. Take the time to purge what is unnecessary.
- Passions: We are a passionate animal who loves many things that become attachment. We chase things like love, cars, a new home, a bigger paycheck, a job title, a dream vacation. But ask yourself why are you chasing these things? Working to be content with what you have, and where you are in life, is one of the biggest things you can do towards personal happiness and simplicity. Stop and ask yourself “why am I pursuing this?” and also “what happens if I don’t get it”, or even better “what happens when I do?”.
- Mind: Your mind can also be filled with things that need to be ‘swept away’, but how do you do that? Meditation is the key and there are many types and techniques to help you such as mindfulness meditation, and even walking meditation (a favorite of Thich Nhat Hanh). By practicing meditation you become more content with who and where you are, and simplicity becomes almost second nature to you.
Flowing Down the Stream
Now that you have cleared the stuff in your life, what happens with it? When you get rid of excess ‘stuff’ by donating it, it can end up in the hands of someone who truly needs it. When your mind is free of attachments and desire, you are free and open to grow and progress. And when your home, body, and life are less heavy with these things, you become more open and available to not only others, but yourself. And isn’t that a truly wonderful thing?
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs told Businessweek in 1998. “But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”